Re: Gov't loves gov't

Charlie Stross (
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 16:02:08 +0000

On Mon, Jan 19, 1998 at 01:14:28PM -0800, John K Clark wrote:
> On Fri, 16 Jan 1998 Charlie Stross <> Wrote:
>>If you look at things from the perspective of social darwinism
> Why would I want to do that? Social darwinism is an old fashioned and foolish
> philosophy that assumes morality can be obtained from nature.

What do you prefer to use? (Game theory? Just curious ...)

>>an argument can be made that Government -- as a concept -- must have
>>been, if not beneficial, then at least a functiona, rugged, and
>>competitive concept at some time in the past. Otherwise it wouldn't
>>be so ubiquitous today.
> The same argument could be made of cancer. If something is evil then I'd
> rather it not be functional, rugged and competitive.

* Cough cough *

First you reject an old fashioned philosophical attempt to derive morality
from nature, they you start pinning loaded terms like 'evil' on the
administrative donkey. (If I didn't know better, why: I might even wonder
if you bore a grudge against government! :)

>>I don't like facile generalisations like "government BAD" and
>>"free market GOOD".
> Good generalizations are the key to science. A good generalization, as good
> as any in the fuzzy world of human values and behavior is "government BAD,
> free market GOOD".

Explain that to diabetics who can't get reasonably priced medical
insurance cover, then. It's in an insurance company's interest, and the
interests of its other customers, not to take on board individuals who
are at high risk. But life's never that simple, and the obvious
first-order approach ("diabetics are high risk, don't touch 'em") isn't
the whole answer to the question. For example -- pursuing a speculative
train of thought -- I seem to recall a recent statement by the RAC (here
in the UK) that diabetic hypoglycaemia is a not-too-uncommon cause of
auto accidents. One could prognosticate that it would be of indirect
benefit to the users of a medical insurance company for it to offer
cover for diabetics, because presumably diabetics with adequate medical
supervision are less likely to let their condition get out of hand
and kill people (including users of our hypothetical insurance
company) while behind the wheel of a car.

The market is good at looking after local problems. It's complete crap
at predicting the future, though, and it provides no solution to the
tragedy of the commons without the imposition of an external regulator.

I could hypothesize that the role of government since the age of
enlightenment -- the role that made it useful enough to have persisted
as an institution -- was simply to provide a workable legal and
enforcement environment in which the market could operate. Do away
with governments that think they're there to enforce laws, and you're
left with the next level down: gangsterism. And most people would
prefer their neighbourhood gangsters to use a rule-book, rather than
make up the extortion demands as they go along.

(This isn't an argument for coercive authority in any absolute sense;
but it's an attempt to explain why _more_ coercive authority can
sometimes be less painful for the people who live under it than
a less powerful but more capricious extortionist.)

-- Charlie